There’s one simple premise to the following series of articles: That even the best idea cannot survive without the basics intact. Over the coming weeks, I’ll be taking a closer look at some of the games (past, present and future) that have promised so much on intelligent and confronting issues or story concepts, yet delivered very little in what makes a game … well, a game.
Like any good movie, video games survive on the substance of its entertainment. You have your plot, your characters, your environments, everything you need to build a world that a player can easily be lost within to the point that the outside world can largely be forgotten. But ask me what the most important area of engagement within said games should be, and the first thing I’ll say is ‘story’.
I love a solid, well thought out tale that demands my attention well after the final credits roll. The likes of Uncharted, Halo, the recent Tomb Raider reboot, plus the highly successful Bioshock Infinite and The Last of Us are perfect examples of rich and detailed narratives. In fact, there’s been a fair few games over the years that have entirely original ideas, complex characters and narratives included, that some Hollywood directors are surely envious of. Yet without the gameplay to back them up, all those games I mentioned along with, say, Assassin’s Creed and Half-Life, would have been nothing without it.
For all the talent and time it may take to create a world we want to live in (whether it’s a few days or a few months), without the necessary gameplay or solid controls, any kind of story can easily be lost on you as you bicker and argue with your character. Case in point, I found myself disappointed and partly infuriated with Capcom’s recent release, the sci-fi adventure Remember Me. The controls were sloppy, textures popped in and out and the actual combat (whilst interesting to a point) just didn’t have the same weight behind it compared to, say, Batman: Arkham City (of which developers Dontnod Entertainment did seem to take a few cues from). That lack of basic polish let it down big time, to the point that I just gave up on it.
But let me stress, I wasn’t giving up on the game. I was giving up on the gameplay. The actual story, tampering with ones mind and using memories as a weapon all its own, is an intriguing one that deserved a greater level of attention. Capcom simply forgot the basics. So what happened? Is it a case of the idea being too big or outlandish? Anyone who played Mirror’s Edge knows that its story was unique but its gameplay lacked that little bit to run with its concept (no pun intended). Back then there was very little like it, even now there isn’t, but there’s no arguing that its ideas were perhaps far greater than its execution. We’ll wait and see what its ‘reboot’ might do to improve on those ideas.
But back on topic for point number two: Effort. Did Remember Me fail because of a lack of it? Was too much time put into its ideas but not enough into its execution? It’s hard not to consider such a notion, given the lack of thought put into the platform sections and combat, as standard as they come and (what’s worse) partially broken. But given the apparent love and affection put into creating its story and setting, and the necessary time to build that world out, surely the effort couldn’t come into question so easily?
Point three: Time. We either don’t have enough of it, or have too much of it to spare. Time is a critical factor in game design and unless you’re the lucky one who can use all of it in the world (or own a time machine), there will never be enough of it to finish the job. It’s one reason why DLC and after release patches are the norm these days, focusing on a quick release instead of placing emphasis on longer development times.
Most studios are put under massive time constraints in order to release the game as soon as possible, in order to maximise its potential (especially if it’s a sequel). These days most major labels, such as EA and Activision, have a number of studios under their control, each one handed a task to complete within a strict and challenging schedule. That’s even more evident in the annual releases for the likes of Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed. The exception to that rule is Valve, who have followed a far different yet successful path.
So perhaps Remember Me suffered from a lack of development time. With more hours on the clock, many of its issues could have been resolved before release (sounds like a broken record in this day and age). I personally believe that Capcom shipped Remember Me out knowing it wasn’t going to do as well as first hoped, possibly banking on its story to pull in the punters despite its flaws. Why waste any more money on a product that isn’t going to turn a profit?
In the end, Remember Me is just another example of a studio whose limitations are brought upon it not by those in-house, but by a corporate strategy that drains whatever potential said project might have. It’s not the first game and it certainly won’t be last, and that’s the sad reality of our industry as it stands right now. Only the biggest and brightest ideas, in the right hands, have a chance at survival. Then again, as long as the indie industry continues to move forward, the biggest and brightest will continue to find a home.